WHEELING - The Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau is paying $22,555 monthly to retire the $1.55 million debt the organization owes for buying and repairing the Capitol Theatre.
With a wide variety of shows and public functions held at the theater since it reopened nearly three years ago, CVB Executive Director Frank O'Brien believes the organization's investment remains a wise choice that is benefiting local residents and businesses.
"We have just finished the new windows at the back of the theater - they are historically correct," said O'Brien of the $49,250 in windows funded by his organization and a state grant.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Frank O’Brien discusses the status of the Capitol Theatre that officials continue to upgrade.
"From now on, the focus is going to be on enhancing the customer experience. Up until now, almost all of our spending has gone toward health and safety upgrades."
O'Brien said the CVB would be able to pay off the theater by 2019 or earlier, according to the current amortization schedule. The CVB is a private, nonprofit organization.
Since September 2009, the theater has hosted the comedy of Jerry Seinfeld, the sounds of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, separate speeches by former Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie's 2011 and 2012 State of the City speeches, as well as a variety of Broadway and musical shows.
Though some have questioned the Capitol's programming lineup, O'Brien said the days of having motor coaches lining up along Main Street every Saturday night for country music shows are not likely to return. Certain big-name music acts are just unlikely to come to the Capitol because of the amount of money those artists would want to be guaranteed.
"One act that played at the theater in 1988 for $8,000 now wants a minimum guarantee of $45,000. When you add in marketing and other costs, it is just really hard to come up with that kind of a guarantee at a venue that has 2,460 seats," O'Brien said.
However, the money spent to purchase and reopen the theater has allowed downtown Wheeling to gain some economic activity it otherwise would not, O'Brien believes. He cites a study by Americans for the Arts, which shows that 70 percent of those attending Broadway or Symphony acts at the theater also dined out before or after the shows. Some of the shows include food offerings in the ballroom, and the theater has its own food and beverage stand.
"It really is a vital economic driver for the city - there is no question about it," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said the bureau owes the $1.55 million on the Capitol for the following items:
- the $615,000 purchase price
- about $800,000 in required safety and health upgrades
- interest on the loan
The CVB is funded entirely from hotel/motel tax revenue, which is collected from the bed tax paid by those who stay in hotels throughout Ohio County. No other tax sources are being used to pay for the theater, O'Brien said.
He noted increased hotel/motel tax revenue - gathered in part because natural gas drillers are filling local hotels - is also helping to pay for the venue.
The bureau purchased the theater - formerly known as the Capitol Music Hall - from LiveNation in mid-2009. That same year, the bureau entered a contract with the Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority to manage and book events for the Capitol for $1 per year. This is the same entity responsible for managing WesBanco Arena.
In terms of ongoing improvements at the Capitol that O'Brien said are funded through private donations and government grants, he said the restrooms in the upstairs ballroom are now completely renovated. Also, a full kitchen with sinks, a stove and refrigeration equipment is now in place upstairs.
"There is even a couple that is going to get married in the theater, and then have their reception in the ballroom," he added of another newfound community use for the venue.
O'Brien also is planning to soon have a new stage sound system to replace the large, 1970s-style speakers aligning the sides of the stage with smaller and newer digital equipment.
Upcoming events at the Capitol include a concert by the Oak Ridge Boys on Oct. 5, while the 2012-13 Broadway at the Capitol season is set as follows:
- West Side Story on Nov. 5
- Mannheim Christmas on Dec. 18
- Beauty and the Beast on Jan. 9
- A Chorus Line on Feb. 6
- Elvis Lives on April 9
"We have a very diverse product, which gives us a higher probability for success than if we were relying on only one or two types of programming," said O'Brien.
"We are still hoping to get projector equipment in place so that we can show second-run movies. We would not be competing with the theaters at The Highlands or at the (Ohio Valley) Mall. These would be movie events that we would hold every so often."